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Location: GIBSONTON, FLORIDA, United States

Three years at CWM made me a real traditionalist, and I keep remembering Bob Parkinson saying, "I want the people to see what the circus used to be, not what it is today. That's what this site is about!

Friday, January 18, 2008


I am a member of the San Diego Circus Luncheon Group and received this e-mail today.
Canestrelli wrote:
Date: Thu, 17 Jan 2008 12:30:07 -0800 (PST)
From: Canestrelli
Subject: Tragic news
Dear Laura,
Please keep the Canestrelli's in your thoughts and prayers as Ottavio passed away yesterday.(Jan. 16) We will let you know when the memorial will be.
Kristen Canestrelli
I want everyone to know that you may post a blog or a message at two different sites about Ottavio for his family and friends.

This is the URL for the myspace created in loving memory of Ottavio where you may view photos and leave messages and stories.

This is a wonderful site dedicated to all that is circus
There is a blog there for Ottavio where you may post. There are also pictures of him.

Please be sure to check both these sites for information concerning the upcoming Memorial service that will be held for Ottavio.
Please forward this message to anyone you know who knew him.
Thank you from the family,
Pietro & Kristen
From Sylvia Hernandez DiStasi, Larry Di Stasi, & The Actors' Gymnasium Staff & Faculty.

From Chris Cristian

He really looks like is father here.
Ottavio, Bee Jay Joyer, & Chris Cristian.
Thank you for hosting these pictures and for being such a wonderful resource for Circus Aficionados. Ottavio was a good friend of ours in Chicago. The pictures are from his show, "A Clown without a Circus." We miss him.
Felicity and Drew HunzekerHesed

Taken on the Cindy Migley Circus, in Fergas Falls, MN, April 26, 2007
Ed Migley's Circus America, Mexico City, 1082
David is a retired aerialst, & is now the Technical Director for "O", Cirque du Soleil-Bellagio in Las Vegas.



Blogger 24-HOUR-MAN said...

Dear Bill,
Here is a photo of Ottavio Canestrelli,

We at the Actors Gymnasium are saddened and devastated at the sudden loss of our colleague and friend.
He was a very talented clown and all around great performer.He and was taken from us too soon.
Our hearts and condolences go out to his family.

Sylvia Hernandez- DiStasi ,Larry DiStasi
The Actors Gymnasium Staff & Faculty

1/18/2008 2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our deepest sympathy to the family -

1/18/2008 5:59 PM  
Blogger Dawn Marie Galtieri said...

Chris and I cannot express enough how deeply saddened we are by this news.

Ottavio contributed invaluably to Vaudeville Underground, reminding us over and over the history and innovation he brought to the art form.

dm & ce
Voice of the City

1/18/2008 6:51 PM  
Anonymous Tavana said...

Our sincerest sympathies to the Canestrelli family,especially my friend, Ilona. There just are no words to express the shock of this tragic loss.

1/18/2008 10:30 PM  
Anonymous Tethra said...

I had the joy and privilege of growing up with Ottavio in San Diego and share in the shock and sadness of this loss. He has been bringing joy and laughter to all those around him all his life. My deepest sympathy to the Canestrellis...

1/18/2008 11:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is very sad that a man as talented as Ottavio would reach a point where he no longer wished to continue on this Earth. His suicide is a tragedy for his family, friends and especially his young daughter. Our prayers and condolences are with them.

1/19/2008 1:05 AM  
Blogger 24-HOUR-MAN said...

Dear Bill & Trudy,

Thank you for your response and for posting this on your blog. I have two favors to ask of you:

1) May I send you a few photos of Ottavio to post on your blog?
2) Will you put a notice on your blog for anyone who may have known or worked with Ottavio to send photos, video, and funny/memorable stories about him? We are putting together a book for his daughter and for Mom and Pop.

They can be sent digitally to this email address or regular mail to
11481 Smithers Court
San Diego, CA 92126

Thanks again for any help you can give. Let me know if I can help you out with any information and or photos from the past or present of the Canestrelli family and or circus photos.


Pietro & Kristen Canestrelli

1/19/2008 8:19 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

My name is Jason and I've been Ottavio's roommate since October of 2006, and he was a wonderful roommate. He was funny and very responsible, one of the best roommates I have ever had.

My sympathies are with his family, I didn't get to know him as well as some, but it's obvious that he touched so many people.

1/19/2008 10:19 AM  
Anonymous Rob Rodgers said...

I’m stricken with grief, shock, and emptiness. Ottavio was my best friend, a well respected artistic peer, and one of only two true confidants in my life. In times like this, when life hurts so much, it was he, whom I would have called to aid me. My deepest condolences to his family, whom he loved so much.

He filled my life with laughter, madness, compassion, and the ability to dream beyond inspiration.
He filled my life with life.

It will be a lonely road without him.

1/19/2008 1:08 PM  
Blogger CZ said...

In Memoriam: Ottavio Canestrelli, who died January 16, 2008

Ottavio and his family taught my husband and me much of what we learned of the old circus ways. Generations of children also learned acrobatic skills from Ottavio in our after school program in San Diego. He gave me, as a founder of a community based circus not so well known as the others on his resume, access to his own deep knowledge, a generous act. I felt the sacred power of the tradition by knowing him. One time he told me that show people measure the cycles of circus acceptance, strength, and popularity in terms of centuries, not decades. That gave me courage to carry on when the going got rough.

Another time Ottavio asked me why I don't blink, saying that was a sign of someone who is connected with a kind of otherworldly reality. Funny, I had always thought of myself that way, but caution had taught me that "those who know don't tell, and those who tell don't know." I felt that he and I were the same in that way, so it was no breach of the silence.

Once we had a yule log-leaping party in our backyard, in which you threw into the fire two slips of paper, one with your dreams and one with your impediments, then leaped over the flames to the other side of both. Not only did he participate, but then he performed with fire on the roof of our office-garage. That was in the days when his sister Ilona taught trapeze in our back yard, and the whole enterprise took root and blossomed inside our rib cages.

As I think of Ottavio flying through the air, or standing proudly at the top of his unsupported ladder, I hear his beautiful laughter, and see his marvelous smile. It is in wonderment that I honor the courage it took for one whose every nerve, ligament and muscle were so finely tuned to make a deliberate choice to harness and interrupt his own earthly flight and transport himself into another reality, where I wish him a happy landing for his soul. I do not encourage others to leave the planet in this way, but I am not a heaven-or-hell believer either, and think there are many versions of the mystery of life and death. I am proud that over the years Ottavio became the author of his own story, and shared it with the world. Thank you, Ottavio Canestrelli.

Cindy Zimmerman, Fern Street Circus

1/19/2008 4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the url for the myspace created in loving memory of Ottavio. Feel free to visit the site and leave your comments and stories...

1/19/2008 11:06 PM  
Blogger Claire Wedemeyer said...

Ottavio was a tremendous clown with tremendous capabilities, he had a uniquely wonderful and precise insight. He made me laugh hysterically. He was brave in his work and communications. He was my friend for just a little over a year here in Chicago. He was dearly loved and highly respected by so many here; no words express our sadness, and our prayers for peace for his family.

1/20/2008 4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We feel so bad for the Canestrelli family who we love dearly. They are wonderful people.We knew the kids when they were little but hadn't seen them since they moved to San Diego.In 2003 Ottavio and his his foster brother Fletcher Runyun came to work on Billy Martins circus in the frozen north.Billy called the show 1001 laughs and belive me Ottavio kept us laughing all year.We just worked with him again on Shane Johnsons date in Grand forks and again he kept us laughing.He always talked about his daughter.He really loves her.We will miss him and his wit.
Joanne and PeeWee

1/20/2008 10:31 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Jolls, Rigoler Productions said...

He was a brilliant performer, an amazing business partner, and a great friend.
I miss him terribly.
My thoughts and deepest sympathies go to the Canestrelli family.

1/20/2008 11:41 PM  
Blogger 24-HOUR-MAN said...

To Joyce, Pietro, & the entire Canestrelli Family,
Needless to say, Trudy & I are deeply saddened by your loss, you are in our hearts, and in our prayers, and we hope you can find peace in knowing that even though Ottavio is gone physically, his spirit will remain with us always.
Trudy & Bill

1/21/2008 3:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My deepest sympathies for his family and for Ottavio himself. I met him when I began working for the Fern Street Circus in 1994 and made costumes for him over the years, even for his tour in Japan several years ago. This is a sad day for the circus and those who loved him.

1/21/2008 6:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Ottavio ,

I am Rob Rodger's sister and over the years, I have heard about many performances and travels that you and my brother have embarked on together.I think I may have even spoken to you a time or two when you called our family's house looking to speak to him. I knowthat you and my brother shared a true friendship and that my brother deeply valued your friendship. I know that you both share the same passion for entertaining and making people happy. I have seen video taped performances and I know that when you two were together, you lit up thestage. I know my brother willforever remember andcherish the times that he spent with you traveling and performing. I know it meant a lot to him when you went to visit him in Germany and meet his newly borndaughter. Now that you are no longer here, I can tell by my brother's pain and grief that you had a very special place in his heart. Since I lovemy brother, Iwanted to say thank you for being such a wonderful friend to him. Thank you for being there forhim when he needed someone to share his feelings with. Thank you foralways caring abouthim too. Thank you for sharing his passion to perform and for helping to making his dreams of entertaining people come true. You were a true friend to him and those are hard to come by. Ottavio, you touched so many lives and everyone's wonderful memories of you will live on forever.

-Mindy Rodgers

1/22/2008 10:41 AM  
Blogger Joan Schirle said...

My heart goes out to the Canestrelli family. I didn't know Ottavio well, but did have the chance to encounter the wonderful dedication, professionalism, and spirit of the Canestrelli's when they assisted our circus production of "A Christmas Carol" at San Diego Rep some years ago. My respect and sympathy to all who knew and loved Ottavio.
Joan Schirle
Dell'Arte International

1/22/2008 1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to personally thank Bill and Trudy Strong for providing a place for people to post comments and pictures of Ottavio. Ottavio and Oreste were very close to their son Steven when we worked together on Circus Varges a long time ago. I also want to thank everyone who posted on this site. I think that it has helped my parents a great deal to know that my brother touched so many people's lives.

Ottavio's memorial will take place this Saturday, January 26, at 2:00 p.m. at the address below:

El Camino Memorial - Sorrento Valley
5600 Carroll Canyon Road
San Diego, California 92121

I hope that anyone who can attend the memorial will do so.

Ottavio was the last of my immediate family to still hit the road. He did so because he loved it and had the courage to carry on, even when the circus business changed for the worse. He was very successful, traveling all over the world and crossing over to legitimate theater. In doing so he fulfilled the hopes and dreams of my entire family.

Ottavio's parents, his daughter Catherina, his brothers and sisters, his nieces and nephews, and the rest of our family will always miss him.

Pietro Canestrelli II

1/22/2008 6:03 PM  
Anonymous kurtribak said...

I was shocked and saddened to hear of Ottavio's death. I knew him when I was a musician in Make*A*Circus in the late '90s. Ottavio had a deep talent and it was always clear to me how much the circus meant to him.

I remember one show where Ottavio fell accidentally from his ladder. He slid down, his back, butt and tailbone hitting the rungs on the way down. It hurt to watch, but Ottavio got up as if it was nothing. That bit wasn't supposed to hurt, so he acted as though nothing happened. A couple of scenes later he was "hit" with something and he grimaced with pain, because that's what the bit called for. Ottavio could be very tough. Talking to him it was clear how much he loved circus and how deeply it was a part of him.

I was hoping to see him perform again, because I thought he had a special talent and a special drive to perform. I'll miss him.

My deepest condolences to his family.

1/23/2008 12:51 AM  
Blogger Tim on the Town said...

I'm crushed to discover the news of Ottavio's death.

I became acquainted with him in the last couple of years after he settled in Chicago. It was always an uplifting moment to encounter one of his performances, whether in the park, on the street, at a variety show, or in the theater.

Knowing that I was a circus fan and local clown, Ottavio was quite kind, always humble, going out of his way to chat and offer insight.

I even appreciated how he would occasionally ask for my feedback on his act. Indeed, the last time I saw him - just a couple of months ago - he asked for a little constructive critique on what I saw at the show where he had appeared. It was something which he didn't have to do (for who am I, ultimately?), but a sign of respect for which I was thankful. I came to clearly understand from that brief conversation how he was continually striving to improve.

His dedication, respect, encouragement, and support will be remembered always. He brought joy to so many hearts.

~ Tim Gault

1/23/2008 9:22 AM  
Anonymous JoAnn said...

Ottavio will be very missed. He was a groomsman at our wedding 10 years ago and very good friend. He even performed out our recent anniversary party. Words cannot express the void that his departure leaves, but I wish for him peace--he deserves that.

My very deepest condolences to everyone whose lives he touched. My heart especially goes out to Cat--he loved you so much! Ottavio, you left your mark on this world and you will not be forgotten! We miss you!

-JoAnn Stewart

1/23/2008 1:33 PM  
Blogger Dawn Marie Galtieri said...

Thank you for posting the memorial information. Know that we here in Chicago are with you in spirit, now and on the 26th.

Given Ottavio's recurrent performance experience with Vaudeville Underground these past two years, Chris and I wish to send a notice of Ottavio's death to our audience, many of whom loved him and his diverse and poignant acts.

Please forward his obituary to us so we can honor Ottavio and the family by passing it on.

send to:

Chicago folks: I have been thinking about having a memorial here, perhaps organized by Actor's Gymnasium and Voice of the City in which Ottavio can be more formally remembered. Thoughts? email me directly.

1/23/2008 3:34 PM  
Blogger Dan Mankin said...

I am shocked by the loss of a great clown and friend. I will always remember the laughs and joy that Ottavio brought into my life. Working with Ottavio in Make A Circus, he and Sarah Moore made the funniest,silliest rehearsal period I have ever experienced. The circus community has lost a real mensch, a good friend and a great performer. My love and condolence to his family and the community.

1/23/2008 6:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a Fern Street Circus "parent" (meaning my kids have participated), and had the honor of seeing Ottavio perform with his brothers 16 years ago or so, and then Ottavio on his own when he would periodically return to do a season with Fern Street.
But the most special memory I have, is when Ottavio developed an act with my son Silvio, who was 9 at the time. The show was "Alice Through the Looking Glass", and Ottavio was the Jaberwocky (on stilts) and Silvio was the little knight. They had a battle in the act, but left as friends.
Silvio (now 11) cried when we told him about Ottavio. He is learning that death is part of life. We are going to the memorial service here in San Diego today. This morning Silvio told me he had a dream this past week: he saw Ottavio perfoming in the circus and he was happy.
Our thoughts are with all touched by Ottavio.
Lisette Cauchon and Silvio Damone

1/26/2008 3:42 PM  
Anonymous kurtribak said...

A few of us who knew Ottavio from Make*A*Circus had a toast and memorial in San Francisco. Randy Odell and I were on a gig together yesterday. Megan Kilian (ex - Stage Maager for Make*A*Circus) came down. We dedicated a song to Ottavio's memory, had a toast and a small ritual provided by Sarah Moore, and reminisced.

Megan reminded us how Ottavio would always make sure he knew exactly where Caterina was and that she was safe before he started unloading the truck. It was another reminder of how much he loved his daughter. We also laughed over memories of Ottavio's comic bits.
We'll miss you.

1/28/2008 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Shayna Swanson said...

I miss Ottavio. He had been training in our space and it was always so nice to be there when he was. He'd been helping me out a bit with my jumping stilts and we were going to pull lines for each other. His absence is felt deeply by all of us, and it makes me so terribly sad that he didn't realize how much he was loved, by so many people and on such a level.

Ottavio, I've been thinking about you often. Thank you for making me laugh, think, defend my positions and bounce high. I miss you.

1/29/2008 11:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for these photos. Ottavio was my 2nd cousin, and we never met.
I remember stories when I was a child, about my mother Jean's cousin Joan (Ottavio's mother), who "ran away with the circus".
I was so proud, and thought it so cool, that I had family with the circus.
I wish we'd had the chance to meet. The photo from Fergus Falls, MN last year, particularly caught my eye - we were so close, and never even knew it.
My sympathies to the family members I don't know who are mouring Ottavio's death.
R.I.P., Ottavio. Hopefully, we'll catch each other on the flip side.
Judy Herbert

3/29/2008 10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Judy Herbert,

Ottavio's mother was Joyce not Joan. Joan is Joyce'solder sister, Ottavio's and my aunt.
How are you Ottavio's second cousin? Are you a decendent of a Briedenbach?

Pietro Canestrelli

4/02/2008 2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To all my Canestrelli cousins:
I'm sorry we have all lost touch over the years. The last time I saw Ottavio he was a little kid that enjoyed teasing me. If any of my cousins would like to re connect, my email is
Alice Wilson

6/11/2008 10:48 PM  
Anonymous CharlotteHemingway said...

I was in Make*A*Circus with Tav. He taught me the basics of teeterboard, tumbling, and clowning, and was very patient, caring, and funny. I just learned of his death, and am very saddened. I have a developed roll of his film that I would like to send to his family (it includes pictures of his daughter circa 1998), can someone please help me? I sent a message on MySpace, but I don't know how often that gets checked. Please E-mail me at . Thank you so much! ~Charlotte

11/03/2008 3:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Pietro - a Breidenbach cousin. Sorry I never saw your reply until today. You can email me at

My mother was Jean.

Best Wishes,
Judy H. (see my original post, 3/29/08 and your reply on 4/2/08)

4/12/2009 6:42 AM  

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